The first time I realized my heart was skipping beats, the night was dark and close. I had felt that hard, intent thunder in my heart before, but it wasn’t until that night when I was sleeping on my stomach with my arm tucked close to my chest that I felt the nothingness that came where beats should have been.
My heart was stopping. It was not beating when it should be beating.
I listened and waited. It did it again, and again. Each time, it caught itself just in time and shuddered. My mind raced. What could be going on?
My husband breathed in and out next to me. He could sleep because he didn’t know I was dying. Probably he would feel bad about that in the morning.
I thought about waking him, just to have someone there with me, just to have someone know that my heart—my heart—was broken. But he had to work the next day and I couldn’t bring myself to wake him up for something I knew was okay.
It was okay.
Everything would be okay.
Then my heart stopped again. It missed a full beat. The silence of that beat felt like an eternity. I waited. “My heart has stopped! My heart has stopped!” my mind screamed.
It is amazing how much panic a brain can cram into the space of a single heartbeat.
Just as suddenly as it stopped, my heart pumped itself back alive again. The force of it made my shirt jump. I could see it, even in the monochrome midnight.
Over and over again the cycle repeated, sometimes as often as every other beat.
I breathed in slowly and let the air flow out in measured increments, trying to calm a muscle that seemed to have a mind of its own. It didn’t make a difference.
Even harder, I tried to control my thoughts. You are worrying, I reprimanded myself. You need to pray. Just pray.” But the prayers that rose to my lips mingled with frantic, fearful questions. How do I stop this? Should I go to the emergency room? What if I go to the emergency room and nothing is wrong? What if I don’t go and something is?
Oh, Kristie, why is it so much easier to worry than to pray?
That night dissolved into fitful sleep. Over the next few weeks, the heart palpitations came and went. Some days, I felt almost normal. Other days, I collapsed into a chair because holding a wild, frantic heart in one’s chest is exhausting.
The doctors are trying to figure out what is going on. So are my friends. I have tried every remedy for heart palpitations known to man. Some seem to be working.
Then it starts again.
Every time I succumb to another episode, I am reminded of how frail I am, and how deceived I’ve been to think otherwise. Because I can think I have faith until my heart stops beating under the same roof where my babies sleep. I can be brave and strong in the daylight, but when the darkness comes and my heart is tripping along the fence between life and mortality, fear rushes in where faith should be and I find that I cannot move mountains; these mountains are moving me.
I am shaken.
The truth is, I do not want to settle accounts today. I have words to say, still, and things to do, and holiness to become, and well, shoot, I thought I’d be better than this before I went.
Even when the sun comes up and nothing more has come of it than another night of little sleep, I do not breathe any easier. When your heart doesn’t beat half as much as it should, you are twice as thankful when it does, and you wake up knowing that these fragile hours are not to be wasted.
That’s the kind of clarity that comes from dying. I am not dying, and yet I am. Every day, a little more of this offering burns up, and a little less is left to be burned. And I think of how much smoke I’ve spent on very little sacrifice.
I do not want to spend the remainder of my days, be they many or few, on charades. I do not want to waste it.
So I traipse off to doctors and get hooked up to all sorts of things that can only begin to plumb the depths of my heart and I try to take a good look at the stuff that doesn’t show up on any of the tests. I swallow things I was told to swallow and rest the way I was told to rest, and in between I tear down the altars I built thinking I could sacrifice my life the way I wanted to a God who does not ever accept grand achievements as substitute for contrition.
“Some things might have to change,” the doctors tell me, and while they might be referring to my coffee intake and the way I don’t sleep, I choke a little because I wonder if God’s been talking to them the way He’s been talking to me.
This skipping, obstinate heart cannot be allowed to continue to march to its own rhythm. The doctors know it. So do I. I cannot continue to serve myself under the auspices of serving God. I cannot pretend to pour into my children when I’m really wasting more time than I’m investing. I cannot minister only when it’s comfortable and I am in control.
I cannot spend any more precious days counting on the strength of my own broken heart. The beautiful truth is, I have a broken heart. But the breaking seems to be the very cure I need.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.